Arlington Redevelopment Board - Feb 8th, 2021

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Meeting held via remote participation. Materials were available from

MBTA Community District

The board discusses new zoning requirements for MBTA communities. At the board's request, Planning Department staff has put together a proposal to help move the discussion along.

(Erin Zwirko, Planning Department) Ms. Zwirko gives a timeline for the changes to 40A. The bill was signed on Jan. 15th, and it requires MBTA communities to have a zone of reasonable size where multi-family housing is allowed by right, at a density of at least 15 units/acre, where the housing is suitable for families and free of age restrictions. (Under General Law Chapter 161A, Arlington is considered an MBTA community). MBTA Communities that don't satisfy this requirement will become ineligible for certain kinds of state aid.

On January 29th, DHCD released a statement saying that eligibility won't be affected during this year's funding cycle. Ms. Zwirko says the board has two paths forward: hold the article and wait until DHCD releases guidelines, or pursue and article during this spring's town meeting.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery would like to hear about work done to date.

(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko shows a map with a 1/2-mile radius drawn around the Alewife T station; this is the area that should fall under the requirements for MBTA communities. The ARB discussed an overlay district during the last meeting, and Ms. Zwirko has assembled an overlay proposal. Part of the PUD district lies within the half-mile radius, but that land's likely to be undevelopable. The current overlay proposal would omit land currently zoned as OS (open space) or R2 (two-family residential). The overlay would affect other districts in the half-mile radius, like the business districts at the end of Mass Ave.

Under this overlay proposal, there would be 13 affected parcels on the west side of Mass Ave. These parcels range from 1,750 to 14,375 square feet. The law requires 15 units/acre. Our regulations for three family homes require 2,500 square feet of lot area per unit, or a 7,500 square foot lot for a three-family home. Only one of these parcels has enough area for that. Ms. Zwirko says that 11 of the 13 parcels could have a multi-family building if the limit were 1,000 square feet of lot area per unit.

Ms. Zwirko says that the answer to "what's a district of reasonable size" is still unknown. This overlay is similar to doing mixed use in the B2A and B4 districts. She's also proposed a reduction in parking requirements to 0.5 spaces/unit, and included language to ensure that inclusionary zoning applies.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau asks Ms. Zwirko for clarification on which parcels would be affected. He asks if 11 of 13 parcels could make use of the overlay proposal.

(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says that DHCD hasn't specified what "reasonable size" is, but she believes this set of lots should meet that requirement. If it doesn't, we could consider incorporating more lots in the half-mile radius, or expanding the radius. There may be other pathways.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson suggests a few wording changes to the overlay language. He notes that the area contains several R2 lots on Mass Ave, and asks Ms. Zwirko if she'd consider including those in the overlay.

(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says that one of the parcels contains a historic structure. The other two could be included, with the appropriate wordsmithing. She says that many of the B-district parcels already have residential uses on them.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson likes the authorization of 3+ residential units in mixed-use, and the mention of design guidelines. Mr. Benson understood the last meeting's R2 discussion as going in the other direction, where three-family homes would be allowed in the R2 district, within a half-mile of the Alewife T station. Mr. Benson says we'd need more groundwork to turn that into a proposal.

(David Watson, ARB) Mr. Watson refers to the map; the half-mile radius touches several parcels on the east side of Mass Ave and he asks if those parcels are included.

(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says she looked at the parcels that were completely within the half-mile radius. The business district parcels on the other side are already developed (like CVS and Menotomy Grill), and the others are already residential.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson was also confused by the omission of R2 from the overlay. He'd like to see what that scenario looks like.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery asks how the board feels about deferring the article.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson notes that most recent state guidance says these regulations won't apply to current grant funding.

(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says that Mr. Watson is correct. She believes we'll meet the eligibility requirements for MassWorks grants.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson asks when the next round of funding is.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt believes it will be June 2022.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would prefer to wait for clarification. He's interested in studying a 0.75- and 1-mile radius from Alewife station. He's concerned that eleven parcels might not be enough to be compliant. He'd like to see how many lots would fall within a wider radius.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson would like to defer the article until DHCD's final guidance is available. He's not sure that we'd be able to use parcels outside the half-mile radius. If we need to think about three-family homes within the radius, we'd need more discussion and outreach. He thinks the half-mile radius makes sense around commuter rail stations, but less sense for Arlington, which is already built-out around transit. If DHCD is soliciting feedback on their guidelines, he'd like the ARB to be looped in.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson would also like to defer. He hopes that the MBTA and DHCD will look at cases where the transit station is at the edge of the community. Mr. Watson says that anything we do now is just a shot in the dark, since we don't know the ultimate parameters. He agrees that the effort will require thought and outreach, if part of the R2 district needs to be included.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery would prefer to wait for DHCD's guidance.

(David Watson) Mr. Watson believes there's no down side to deferring until guidance is available.

The chair opens the topic to public comment.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming says he's looked at the map of the half-mile radius, and suspects that non-R2 parcels won't be sufficient. He suggests starting the process by thinking about allowing three-family homes in the area by special permit. He says there are 8--10 three-family homes there already. He believes that most of the push back will come from people who live in other parts of town, and dislike the idea of Arlington becoming more dense. He likes the reduction to minimum parking requirements, but doesn't see why any parking minimum is necessary.

(John Worden) Mr. Worden finds it hard to believe that our state representatives let this law go through. He says there'd be no housing problem if Dedham or Swampscott built to the same density as Arlington. He agrees there's no need to bring an article to town meeting this year. He says the MBTA requirements are a devastating blow to our community, and the overlay proposal is un-Arlington like and inappropriate. He asks the board to consider the minimum set of things required to satisfy the law, and to do no more. He says that the board represents Arlington, not the governor, CHAPA, or MAPC. He thinks these requirements are outrageous.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer points out that the state mandates allowing three-family homes by right. He says they are already allowed by special permit in the business districts, and suggests we simply remove the special permit requirement, and allow them to be built by right. He says that families need yards. He says that Arlington has already met the state requirement for 15 units/acre in this part of town, but we've done it with two-family homes on small lots. He agrees with deferring the article. He thinks the state mandate is stupid.

(Steve Revilak) Mr. Revilak suggests deferring the article until DHCD releases their guidelines for MBTA communities, because it sounds like we can do so without penalty. Once the guidelines have been released, then we'll know exactly what the requirements are.

Mr. Revilak thinks it would be worthwhile for the board to contact town meeting members in the affected precincts, and to arrange some precinct meetings. He suggests getting feedback from people who live in the area. Mr. Revilak says that R2 districts in East Arlington already have a number of triple deckers, and folks who live in the area might not object to having a few more.

Although the board sounds like it's not planning to bring a main motion to town meeting, Mr. Revilak would like to make two substantive comments on the draft we discussed tonight.

First, section 5.10.4(B) uses the term "Development Intensity". Mr. Revilak suggests using "Minimum lot area per unit", which is the term used elsewhere in the bylaw.

Second, he believes the main motion should be explicit about what happens with parcels that lie partly inside and partly outside the half-mile radius. It sounds like the intent is to include only those parcels that are completely within the radius, but it would be helpful to state this explicitly.

(Dganit Cohen(?)) Ms. Cohen asks what the financial impact of increasing the population will be. For schools in particular.

(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says she could work with the finance department during future studies.

(Dganit Cohen) Ms. Cohen believes this change will affect everyone, and there should be meetings held all over town.

(Laura Liebensperger) Ms. Liebensperger says that East Arlington is getting walloped with development, and sacrificed for the rest of the town. She says this is already the most developed area of town and there are no large open spaces. She says it's already a highly developed area. She thinks that other parts of town could take this on more easily.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery notes the specificity of the state mandate -- areas within a half-mile of transit stations.

(Carl Wagner) Mr. Wagner applauds the board for putting the article off. He says the goal of 15 units/acre is laudable, but it's a sad thing that the law doesn't count two-family homes. He says it's not fair to Arlington, and believes that we should be a model to other towns.

(Chris Loreti) Mr. Loreti supports deferring. He read the overlay proposal as a desire to allow development by right. He's concerned about the 40' height limit and the new setback requirements. He says that allowing mixed-use by right would allow any business to come in by right, even chains like McDonalds. He thinks the proposal needs more thought.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery wants to clarify that the ARB asked the planning department to put together a proposal, so we could start to have a discussion about compliance with the new laws.

(James Fleming) Mr. Fleming asked if anything besides the Alewife T station would be in scope. Bus stops, for example.

(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko says the law uses the term "bus station" rather than "bus stop". She also believes it won't apply to the bus layover yard in Arlington Heights.

(Patricia Worden) Ms. Worden says she's a former school committee member, and she's concerned about the lack of attention that's been paid to the population of the Hardy School. She can't believe the board is considering this proposal without consulting the school committee. She says that Arlington cannot endure any increase in school enrollment costs. She says that children need open space, and this needs to be brought to the attention of the legislature.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer has a comment about the half-mile requirement. He thinks that half-mile as the crow flies doesn't make sense. He suggests using a half-mile, measured by walking distance.

(Stuart Brorson) Mr. Brorson asks if we use any of the funding sources mentioned in the law.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says yes.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that one of the funding sources is MassWorks, which is a set of public infrastructure grants. We've used these grants for improvements to Arlington Center, and we're also planning to use them for safety improvements to the intersection of Mass Ave and Appleton St. Housing Choice funds are another source. These are planning and capital grants used to construct affordable housing. Arlington currently doesn't meet the eligibility requirements for these funds.

(Stuart Brorson) Mr. Brorson says it sounds like there's money on the table for development, but if we don't develop, then we don't need the money. He thinks we should do a cost/benefit analysis. Compare the cost to address the Appleton St/Mass Ave intersection ourselves, vs the cost to pay for increased school enrollment.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says that Appleton St. is a public safety issue, and goes beyond a cost/benefit analysis.

(Note: this is a high crash intersection. A cyclist was struck and killed there last May.)

(Erin Zwirko) Ms. Zwirko wants to comment on the suggestion of allowing three-family homes by right in the B districts. A three-family home requires 7,500 square feet of lot area, and only one lot in the half-mile radius is large enough to accommodate that.

There's no further comment from the public.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery says it seems like the board is in alignment on deferring the article until later.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau would like to have some more meetings about this. He likes the idea of doing outreach to neighborhoods in that half-mile radius.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says he grew up in a triple-decker, until the age of 13. He says there's nothing wrong with them; kids can grow up just fine in a triple-decker. He notes that there are parks in the area and disagrees with the notion that three-family homes are harmful to children. He says that changes will be slow, because the area is already built up.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt wants to thank Erin Zwirko and Kelly Lynema for their work. Their goal was to present a concrete proposal for the board, in order to have a starting point for substantive conversation. She appreciates the board's comments, and the path they've chosen.

Update on Redevelopment Board Properties

Planning staff provides an update on 23 Maple Street.

(Jenny Raitt, Planning Director) Ms. Raitt says that 23 Maple Street had a tenant who vacated in July. The town put out an RFP for a new tenant, but got no responses. She then began a series of conversations with the arts community; gave lots of tours, but the building wasn't well-suited to their needs. We need a lease with one tenant, rather than multiple tenants.

The building used to be a large single-family home. It was used for school administration offices for a while, and then as a group home. The building has around 5,000 square feet. We're trying to figure out how to fill the building without a tenant.

The DPW yard will be renovated in 18--24 months, and they'll need office space during the renovations. The engineering and building departments will need an office, including customer-facing facilities. They're interested in leasing the building during the renovations, and can pay a modest rent.

The building has six parking spaces. Ms. Raitt suggests having two spaces for short-term parking, leaving four for employees. Tonight, she's looking for board comments and neighborhood concerns. Ms. Raitt would like to proceed with a lease to inspectional services and the DPW, but says there needs to be a future conversation about the long-term use of the building.

(Eugene Benson, ARB) Mr. Benson asks about the lease terms.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says they're projecting 18--24 months, depending on the contractor and construction.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson thinks that's a good short term solution. He asks if there's an accessible entrance.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says there's an accessible entrance in the back, and they'd use that as the public entrance.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks if there's a need for bike parking.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says it's a historic building, so any changes to the exterior will require the approval of the historic districts commission.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson says the town should make it clear that it's not okay to leave vehicles idling in front of the building.

(Kin Lau, ARB) Mr. Lau thinks this is a good fit. He asks how much renovation will be required.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the building needs a few updates, but nothing that would count as a renovation

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau says it would be good to find a suitable use for the property in the future.

(David Watson, ARB) Mr. Watson agrees that this is a good short-term use.

(Rachel Zsembery, ARB Chair) Ms. Zsembery agrees with her colleagues. She's glad we've found a solution, even if it's a temporary one.

The chair opens the item to public comment.

(Shinish Hirani) Mr. Hirani lives across the street. He appreciates Ms. Raitt keeping him in the loop about what's happening. He's glad to see the board take note of his concerns about idling vehicles.

(Max Mahoney) Mr. Mahoney says he's had problems with the property over the last few years. He says the last tenant had a poorly-drafted lease, which didn't fit how they were using the property. He'd like the board to add specific conditions of use in future leases.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says the building will be leased to a town department. She'd like to work with town counsel on a lease that makes sense for their needs. She says that the board typically assigns the planning directory authority to enter into a lease arrangement.

(Rachel Zsembery) Ms. Zsembery believes the board can make this authorization at their next meeting. She thinks this is a good step.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt would like to give an update on the central school renovations. Rough carpentry is being done on the first floor. Health and Human Services has moved their offices to the second floor. She offers to arrange tours for any board members that are interested.

(Kin Lau) Mr. Lau asks if the project is proceeding on budget and schedule.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says yes. The project got a late start due to COVID, but has been proceeding since. She says that assistance from the facilities department has been critical to making this work.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks "didn't the board vote to change the name of the building?".

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says yes, the building is formally called the Community Center. She's working on proposed signage that will have the new building name, and identify some of the significant tenants. She'll have to come back to the board when they're ready for a permanent sign.

Approval of Meeting Minutes

The board edits and approves minutes from their October 28th meeting.

Open Forum

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer would like to speak about the William Clark house, which is located at 400--402 Mass Ave. Mr. Seltzer says the applicant claimed that the existing apartments were one bedroom, but they're really two bedrooms. Mr. Seltzer says he visited a former member of the historic commission when he was living there. There was a simple one-bedroom apartment on the first floor. What exists now far exceeds what the ZBA permitted in 1980. He believes the building's FAR exceeds what's allowed in the bylaw. He claims that two bedroom apartments were never permitted, and a building permit was never issued to build them. He says the applicant has some explaining to do.

(Eugene Benson) Mr. Benson asks Mr. Seltzer if he's reported this to the building inspector.

(Don Seltzer) Mr. Seltzer says he plans to, but hasn't yet.

(Kin Lau) At an earlier meeting, Mr. Lau asked if the board could receive a status update on projects they've permitted. He asks if this can be included in an upcoming agenda.

(Jenny Raitt) Ms. Raitt says that discussion will be on the agenda for Feb 22nd.

Meeting adjourned.